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Talk Less, Listen More

[An article written by Maren Schmidt and published on]

When I asked one of my elementary students what he didn’t like about his life he told me that it was when people started to sound like blah-blah-blah.

Too often our good intentions of telling our children what to do, how to do it, where to do it, when to do, and why to do begin to sound like unintelligible garble.  In the process we get tuned out, sometimes for life.
One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people is “seek first to understand and then to be understood.”  Too often we want our children to understand us first, and we stop there, never trying to see from their point of view.
What do we do too many times when we try to listen and understand our children’s behavior?
Instead of listening for understanding we offer advice. We give our opinion. We tell a story of how we went through a situation that was even worse. We blame. We insult. We criticize. We punish. We make judgments and diagnose. We interject our own needs, emotions and values into the scenario.
In the process, we block and most likely destroy any opportunity for true listening. All our children need is for us to listen to them without judging, criticizing, complaining or evaluating.  Our children want us to be interested in them. Conversely, when it is our turn to talk, we want to be listened to in a way that makes us feel understood.  We have to prime the pump.
Asking questions is our most effective way to talk less and listen more.  As a listener we need to be calm enough to be able to hear and to process what we are being told.  We don’t have to own the problem (at least not at the time of our listening).  As we listen, we refrain from advising or defending our point of view.  As a listener we provide a safe environment for our children to speak. We seek to understand and ask questions to clarify our perceptions.
A simple technique to help us avoid the pitfalls of judging, criticizing, complaining or evaluating is to only ask questions. 
Asking question after question with no statements helps us sidestep those listening obstacles.  Also, if we sit kindly and patiently waiting for an answer we provide that safe environment.
Our session might go something like this:
Why did you hit your brother?  I was bored.
Why did you choose to be bored?  I dunno.
Do you realize you have a choice about how you treat other people?   Yes.
Would you tell me why you would choose to hit your brother instead of doing something else?  I guess I just wanted to have him do something with me. I was bored.
Can you think of how you might have gotten your brother to do something with you?  All I really needed to do was ask him.  I guess I just hit him so he wouldn’t be able to say no.  If I hit him he’d hit me back and then we’d be doing something together.
What do you think you can do in the future to get your brother’s attention?  I can just ask him to do something with me.  And if he says no, I can ask him why.
Do you have anything you’d like to ask me? 
Are you beginning to see how a few questions might be a way to help our children effectively learn another way of behaving?


About Maren Schmidt 
Maren has over 30 years experience working with children and families. She holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale, as well as a M.Ed. from Loyola College in Maryland.
With your twice monthly Understanding Montessori Newsletters you’ll get put-it-into-action advice you can use today.

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How can we help our young children to learn how to care for themselves and about the others? Here’s an interesting read:

Learning to Set Goals

Is goal setting an adult-oriented skill set? Or can we teach our children how to properly formulate goals and the strategic and tactical steps to achieve them? Here is an interesting article on the subject:

Kindergarten or the 3rd Montessori Year?

What’s so important about the third year in a Montessori program?  How is it different from kindergarten?

What’s best for my 5-year-old?
Listen to an interesting recording with Maren Schmidt:

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We are living in the middle of a technological revolution. Jobs that are available today will not exist 20 years from now. Our children will use technologies that we cannot even think of today. So, how can we teach our children to navigate in the fast-moving world that they will live in?
Here’s an interesting article by Maren Schmidt:

Manifesto for a Happier World

We all want to lead a happy life. But in our quest for ‘progress’ we’ve been pursuing priorities that put our happiness at risk – not just for us as individuals, but for society as a whole.

Our collective aim should be a society with the greatest possible human happiness and wellbeing – with policies, institutions and social attitudes that help people to lead flourishing lives. This is the spirit behind a resolutionwhich was adopted last year by all 193 United Nations member states, calling for “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth”, and one which promotes “happiness and the well-being of all peoples”.

You may read the rest of this piece, including Mark Williamson’s 12 suggestions for political leaders, institutions, and individuals, at My Manifesto for a Happier World on DailyGood.

Recommended Blog: Name Calling, Insults, and Teasing

Name Calling, Insults, and Teasing: A Guide to Anger, Conflict, and Respect, is a blog published by Dr. Jeff Rubin. Dr. Rubin has taught conflict resolution at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota, as well as at other institutions including clinics, correctional facilities, and public schools.

His blog features suggestions for working through conflict and supporting respectful relationships, often using examples from literature, history, and comics to help illustrate his ideas. The Primary faculty hope that you will find some of the ideas presented in this blog helpful.

How to Prepare Your Child’s Home Environment

A beautiful, organized, and uncluttered home environment can help in many ways: dressing and undressing is simplified; the favorite book and toy is always within reach; the child can participate in the life of the family and feel needed; challenging work that focuses the child’s attention and fulfills her needs is always available; a more fun, creative, and peaceful life comes into being for the whole family.

The Joyful Child Montessori Company has a very informative article advising parents on how to prepare their young child’s environment at home to facilitate and maximize independent learning and exploration.

You may read the article here.

Shared with permission of The Joyful Child Montessori Company:

Protecting Children During and After a Horrific Event

In this age of instantaneous worldwide media, news about a tragedy can be broadcast to faraway places immediately, and coverage can continue for days following an event. Whether something terrible has happened locally or somewhere far away, it can be difficult to know how to discuss these occurrences with your children, and how to help them cope.

P. Donohue Shortridge has been a Montessorian since 1980. She is a family coach and she speaks and writes about children and their families in the American culture. Her article, Protecting Children During and After a Horrific Event, offers some guidance on how to talk with your children about these events.

For additional information about P. Donohue Shortridge, please visit her website.